When the port came into view, the sharp Flone found a deserted place to drop Seol Jihu off.
Phi Sora had stopped crying by now and had calmed down. Although she was slightly flushed and had a dissatisfied look, she was no longer showing signs of deliriousness.
In any case, now that they had landed safely near the port of Nur, their temporary companionship had to end. Given Phi Sora’s current situation, both Seol Jihu and Phi Sora knew it would be bad if they were seen together.
But noticing Phi Sora hesitate secretly, Seol Jihu quietly took out two silver coins. This should be more than enough for her to eat to her heart’s content at a nice restaurant and head to Scheherazade from Nur.
He was worried that he was being too nosy as it was highly unlikely for a High Ranker to not have the money to catch a carriage. But seeing as how she carefully accepted the coins, it seemed her teammates were in charge of the finances.
Since the valuable items the expedition team found were all left behind, Phi Sora truly did not have a single copper coin. It wasn’t as if she could sell her equipment to scrape up a few coins either.
Before the duo departed….
“Tha… no, I’ll repay this debt….”
For some reason, Phi Sora tried not to meet Seol Jihu’s eyes. But her characteristic temperamental expression had loosened as she moved her lovely lips a small amount. However, because her voice was too small, Seol Jihu couldn’t hear her.
After sending Phi Sora off, Seol Jihu wandered around the port. When he thought Phi Sora must have left Nur by then, he stealthily entered the city.
Nur’s lively atmosphere was the complete opposite of the abandoned villa filled with stifling darkness. Because of it, Seol Jihu couldn’t help but feel a sense of unfamiliarity. The fact that he had been at a villa of death just a few hours ago seemed like a dream.
Only when he got onto a carriage bound for Haramark, which already had two other passengers, did he feel like he had returned alive. Feeling relieved, Seol Jihu made a bitter smile.
‘I thought I quit.’
Since he had bet his life instead of money, wasn’t this gambling as well? Was this the reason he was not getting any withdrawal symptoms even after quitting gambling in one go?
Seol Jihu only sighed with an exhausted face.
The coachman waited until four Earthlings were on the carriage before hopping on the carriage’s driver seat.
Seol Jihu carefully leaned back on the carriage’s rocking wooden wall before suddenly widening his half-closed eyes.
Although a crisis had been averted, it wasn’t over yet. Since he got himself involved in this matter, he had to put an end to it.
Of course, he had no desire to take responsibility for an incident someone else caused…. He decided to make up his mind once he got back to Haramark.
The moment Bok Jungsik offered him a spot in the expedition, he had given Seol Jihu justification.
The minimum justification for him to interfere in this matter.
As expected, by the time Seol Jihu arrived in Haramark, a huge storm had swept through Scheherazade.
With Phi Sora returning alive, the whirlpool of controversy between the two organizations was directed at her.
She claimed she knew nothing of the controversy, saying that, not only did Bok Jungsik not contact her, but that he also ignored dozens of attempts from the expedition team to call him. Of course, none of her words got through. Even explaining that the expedition was a total failure and that she made no gains was futile.
PAX took on the attitude of ‘how are you going to take responsibility for screwing up a high-difficulty ruin expedition we made thorough preparations for.’
And Bok Jungsik remained steadfast in his position ‘that he called the White Rose expedition team as soon as he heard the news from PAX, that he repeatedly called them even when there was no response from the team, and that he didn’t receive a single call from the expedition team.’
To make matters worse, he even asked Phi Sora to take full responsibility of leading the expedition to failure and losing 17 core members of the team.
Considering that all of the deceased members were from Phi Sora’s faction, Bok Jungsik was truly speaking with his head in the sand, but it didn’t pose any problems on the surface.
Both in name and reality, Bok Jungsik was the leader of White Rose, and it was an undeniable truth that Phi Sora had compelled the expedition on her own.
“At this rate, there are only two fates awaiting her.”
Kim Hannah raised her hand in front of Seol Jihu’s face before slightly curling her finger and keenly observing her fingertip.
“The cleanest way would be for her to reattempt the expedition under PAX’s conditions, succeeding and laying the achievements at their feet. But this is unrealistic. Not only did she fail the expedition once before, but White Rose is also in a difficult situation as a result. Well… not that Bok Jungsik would help her anyways.”
She furrowed her brows, then picked up a wooden stick placed on one side of her desk.
“The more reasonable compromise is for that scumbag to join PAX’s expedition and unconditionally act as their meat shield. But this isn’t realistic either. 17 out of 18 members died. I’m sure PAX must have breathed a collective sigh of relief when they heard the news, thanking their luck that they didn’t go.”
With the sharp point of the wooden stick, she carefully cleaned the underside of her nails.
“But this is still too good of a chance to pass up, and it looks like they know it too. You can tell from the way they changed their tune to saying ‘You expect us to go when you made a mess out of the ruin?’ They’re going to pressure her on and on until finally forcing her to work under them in the name of a ‘compromise’. They would be able to employ a skilled High-Rank Warrior for free. Since White Rose seems to have no desire to give compensation, it’s obvious how this will turn out.”
She gently blew air on her finger before smacking her lips and nodding her head.
“She’s quite unfortunate if you think about it. She finally turned her life around after starting off as a Red Mark, but now she’ll go back to being a slave.”
Looking at her clean fingernail, Kim Hannah finally smiled in satisfaction.
“But I’m not so sure that scumbag will accept this so obediently. Given her personality, she is sure to raise a fuss or simply hang herself.”
Kim Hannah flicked her finger a couple of times before finally looking back at the transparent crystal ball shining clearly.
“Well, I doubt you called me because you wanted to hear this.”
Reflected in the crystal ball was the back of a chair and a young man sitting on the chair with a cigarette between his fingers. Seeing his head peeking out above the headrest, Kim Hannah tilted her head and continued.
“The broker who sold the information about the ruin is Charlie Haber. He’s a Canadian from Area 4.”
The calmly listening Seol Jihu finally spoke up.
“You know him?”
—I wouldn’t say I know him…. But didn’t he participate in the Banquet?
“Yeah, he did. He disappeared after the Banquet. My guess is that he planned to use the chaos of the Banquet to make it look like he died. That also means a certain someone ruined his plan.”
Kim Hannah snickered.
“But I wouldn’t be Kim Hannah if I couldn’t find him just because he was hiding. I’ll be direct. He sold information to two organizations. But there’s another problem…. Don’t be surprised. Bok Jungsik pushed him into selling the information even though he knew about this.”
Contrary to Kim Hannah’s belief, Seol Jihu wasn’t surprised.
—How did you find out?
In fact, he asked back calmly.
—Are you sure?
Kim Hannah’s eyebrows perked up.
“You might not know, but there are several methods you can employ in Paradise.”
—I’m asking if you’re 100% certain.
“There’s magic, which is close to omnipotent, and also the power of drugs. As long as someone is captured, it’s child’s play to get them to sing.”
Kim Hannah shot back before leaning forward and sticking her face close to the crystal ball.
“What should I do?”
With a bright smile, she continued.
“I can keep my mouth shut, or I can report to the higher-ups and get praised for bringing them a good piece of information. Or….”
She turned her head here and there, clearly trying to see the young man’s expression, and then smiled with her eyes.
“Or I can just release it to the public and let it blow up. What do you think?”
—Will you do what I want?
“Given our relationship, I don’t see why not. Of course, I have to benefit from it too.”
—Then do that.
Kim Hannah’s eyes widened at his unhesitant answer.
“Huh? You want me to do it? Really?”
—Yeah, let it blow up.
“Are you serious? Shouldn’t you give this a little more thought?”
A calm voice rang out. Kim Hannah straightened her back and interlocked her fingers.
“Oh yeah? It’s not like I can’t, but I’m curious as to why you’re so resolute. Tell me.”
“Don’t tell me it’s because you want to save that scumbag.”
A short snort flowed out from the crystal.
“…Okay, I guess not. Then why?”
—Let me ask you something too.
Seol Jihu answered Kim Hannah’s question with his own question.
—That Bok Jungsik guy bought the information about the ruin from Charlie Haber, fully knowing that he sold the information to another organization. What do you think is the reason he tried to pull me into the expedition?
Kim Hannah rolled her eyes.
“Because of your terrifying connections.”
“We know about the dangers now, but the ancient emperor’s villa was and is an enticing ruin.”
Seol Jihu nodded slowly.
“He schemed to get his hands on the villa’s treasures, but he became uncomfortable with White Rose taking everything. So he searched for a group to support him when PAX issued a complaint, or a group to share the responsibility with.”
Kim Hannah spoke while repeatedly tapping on her desk.
“You will get sick if you eat everything by yourself. But if you share it with others, you might end up with only a stomach ache. So there’s a good chance that he was telling the truth when he said he canceled the expedition because he couldn’t find a group to join White Rose in the expedition.”
“Just that? Don’t kid yourself. Carpe Diem might be another story, but Master Jang Maldong and the Haramark Royal Family can lend him great strength. That’s not all. If they place you on a high pedestal and butter you up, they can even expect support from the Triads and Sicilia.”
—Would that change the situation?
“Yes. It would more than change the situation. Imagine if they had ten, no, five people with the same connections as you. Do you think PAX can voice their complaint this loudly? White Rose can be patronizing all they want and say they’ll give compensation, and PAX will have no choice but to swallow their tears and accept it.”
Seol Jihu chuckled.
—Where’s the justice in that?
“That’s just how it is.”
Kim Hannah smirked.
“In front of profit, justification changes depending on the situation and power at hand.”
—Depending on the situation and power at hand….
“You understand now? That’s how Paradise works.”
—What a shitty system.
Seol Jihu shook his head.
—Regardless, at the end of the day, it’s true that Bok Jungsik wanted to drag me into his mess. That’s enough of a reason for me.
“That’s true… but since you refused, you weren’t harmed, right?”
When Kim Hannah carefully raised this question…
—Just like how an attempted murder is a crime, he isn’t free from blame just because he failed.
Seol Jihu replied brusquely.
—I’m the one who moved out of the way to avoid stepping on shit. It’s not like anyone helped me do that, right?
Knowing he was right, Kim Hannah nodded her head.
—He treated me like shit, so it’s only fair I treat him the same way.
“A bit too big to just be shit. It’s like super big shit.”
—He can worry about stepping on it or avoiding it. He almost gave me an eternal title of ‘ruin thief’. I don’t think I’m out of line at all.
Hearing this, Kim Hannah made a satisfied smile.
Ever since the Banquet, something about Seol Jihu seemed different. With this conversation, she was convinced.
Seol Jihu had changed. No, he was still changing.
In the direction she wanted.
—There’s only one thing I’m worried about….
Seol Jihu turned around halfway and glanced at Kim Hannah. Knowing what Seol Jihu was worried about, Kim Hannah grinned.
“Hey, aren’t you looking down on me too much? That will be a piece of cake.”
—I’m glad then.
“Mm~ I really want to show you Bok Jungsik being stepped all over by me, but doing it personally isn’t my style. I have more enemies than you think, too.”
Kim Hannah smiled bashfully.
“Anyways, I have my ways. You just sit back and watch the show. Also, get some popcorn ready before someone else takes the good seat.”
—The heck does that mean.
“Don’t pretend like you don’t know what I’m talking about. I’m just telling you not to miss out on the fun.”
Seol Jihu shrugged. Kim Hannah smirked and asked before placing her hand on the crystal ball.
“Ah, by the way, why have you been sitting like that? With the back of your chair facing my way, I mean.”
“I’m asking why you’re acting like such a snob. Isn’t it basic courtesy to look at someone when you’re talking to them?”
After a brief moment of silence, Seol Jihu scratched his head.
—I thought I need to pose like this….
—You know, like in the movies. It’s like we’re the masterminds controlling Paradise from the shadows….
Kim Hannah made a dumbfounded expression as if she just heard a complete turn-off.
“You’re shitting me, right?”
She snorted, muttering, ‘What did I expect from you anyway?’ Then, she slapped down on the crystal.
Tk. The light turned off. After stealing another glance at the crystal, Seol Jihu tilted his head up.
‘I thought I was gonna die.’
With how skilled Kim Hannah was at reading people’s minds, Seol Jihu had to put in extra effort to hide his thoughts.
That was the reason he turned the chair — to hide his face. He felt that she would smell something just by the change in his expressions.
Seol Jihu put the almost-extinguished cigarette, which he had not smoked once, in his mouth and looked up at the ceiling.
With this, the die had been cast. Although he couldn’t predict how things would turn out from now on, there was one thing he could be certain of.
The moment he said, ‘Do it,’ White Rose’s fate had been decided — to be destroyed.
Seol Jihu fixed his posture and felt around his waist. He then laid out the items he took out from his belt.
A crystal lampstand, an emerald cup, and twelve, dazzling golden eggs.
Each egg emitted a brilliant light, dyeing his face yellow. With a dazed expression, he adjusted them carefully.
Just like Kim Hannah said, there was only one thing for him to do.
‘It’s not difficult.’
To put the situation into a figure of speech, he was like a man who found an ownerless piggy bank while walking down the street. He simply had to pick up the coins before anyone else came and go on about his day.
‘Before someone else takes the good seat, she says.’
Seol Jihu took out the cigarette and let out a whistling breath. Amidst the swaying turbid smoke, the corners of his mouth curled up into a smile.
He finally felt like he had woken up from a long, dreamy night.Previous Chapter Next Chapter